Darren Weissman doesn’t just run marathons. He runs marathons while dribbling basketballs.
Known as Doctor Dribble, Weissman has always been an athlete and has been training high school, college, and NBA basketball players for the past 15 years. But it’s easy to talk about it. It’s much harder to be about it. Somewhere along the way, Weissman decided he was going to run a marathon. No training. No experience. The most he’d ever run at one time was three miles.
He finished the race in less than four hours.
Weissman had no plans to run another one, that is until someone told him to do it with basketballs. It made sense. Doctor Dribble only had to ask himself whether it was possible with the weather and the terrain. And the other runners too. Are they gonna find it obnoxious? Annoying? Loud? Am I gonna get in the way? Or are they gonna love it? He says he had no idea what to expect but in the end, everyone loved it. He also set a Guinness World Record.
Weissman started running it for his charity, Doctor Dribble’s Helping Hands, and on top of that he now holds free dribbling clinics for underprivileged kids (then donates the balls to them), imparting on them the ball-handling wisdom he’s used to train players like Penny Hardaway, Andray Blatche, Tim Hardaway Jr., and Jack McClinton.
Doctor Dribble has come a long way since he was a kid, watching Miami players like Udonis Haslem and Tim James dominate in high school, and he’s ready to help you improve your handle right now. In this edition of No Days Off, we caught up with the Doc to talk about some ways to become the best ball-handler on your team.
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How much harder is it to do a marathon with two basketballs?
Darren Weissman: A lot harder (laughs.) It depends on the weather. If it’s raining, that’s not going to help. If it’s windy, that makes it a lot more strenuous because I have to crouch down, get low, and bend my back just so that the wind doesn’t blow the balls away. It’s a lot harder and mentally, I’d have to concentrate on every single dribble, along with every step to make sure I’m not dribbling in a hole, on a cup, on somebody’s shoe, on a crack, if the roads bend and curve and I’m not familiar with them in different cities. I’ve ran about 22 half marathons and 11 full marathons in the last two years. There’s a lot of concentration, mentally, that goes into it and physically, it’s not just my legs that are in pain but it’s my neck, my back, my arms, my wrist. It definitely takes control.
Does running marathons help you train for basketball at all?
DW: I don’t recommend anyone training for basketball to go out there and run a marathon or run a marathon dribbling two basketballs. I would say a 5K or a 10K to be the most I’d recommend for a basketball player. Basketball is actually a marathon but it’s a marathon of short sprints. For basketball training, I recommended a lot of fast-twitch muscle fibers combined with strength training, along with flexibility and stability. When you take those four things, the speed, strength, stability, and flexibility into a well-balanced formula for training, you’re going to get great results and stay healthy.
The problem with some people is all they care about is how high they can jump, how fast they can run, how much they can lift, and they dominate one area. They tend to focus on just one thing and dominate it, and as a result of that they’ll get injured because they’re overdoing certain areas and certain muscles and neglecting others. Injury prevention, for me when I’m working with my athletes, is my No. 1 concern just because you’re not going to be any good, doesn’t matter how high you can jump, if you’re sitting on the bench with a cast on your ankle, or if you blow out your knee.
I definitely think that strength is the number one stepping stone for a foundation, and then to go along with speed, agility, and stability and flexibility. They all have to be heightened.
For your training sessions, what’s something that you use no matter what? For all age and talent groups?
DW: I always incorporate ball control with my clients, unless I’m working with someone that will specifically ask for one thing. If someone just wants to learn footwork in the post, I’ll still incorporate some ball control, but traditionally all my clients warm up with ball-handling drills. We stretch with the ball. I try to keep the basketball in their hands and have them dribbling the ball as much as possible throughout the practice. I try to spend as little time as I can talking and more time doing and demonstrating so they can get the most out of the session and hour.
My clients will see tremendous improvement in court vision and reaction time and seeing things and being able to breakdown plays in ways they couldn’t before just because they’re a lot more comfortable with the ball. They become one with the ball, like the ball is a part of their body. I tell them all the time to take a ball and sleep with it. Flick it off your fingertips before you go to bed and just count the backspins as you fall asleep.
It’s not just about that time they spend with me. It’s the basketball homework and the things that they do on their own. In order to be competitive, which means you’re not just trying to participate, you’re trying to win, and you’re trying to outperform others, you have to work harder than them. You could work just as hard in practice but if there’s somebody on your team going home at night and practicing things on their own, or waking up early and doing drills by themselves, they are going to get ahead. Those are the things I preach to my kids. Outwork everybody.
How much should a high school kid be working on his handle?
DW: Every day. Every single day they should be working on their handle. When my players are in season and see me two or one day a week, I give them basketball homework and will break down with them 10 drills to focus and work on. Once they have those down, I will go into other things like footwork and moves off the dribble, shooting. Those 10 drills are what they need to do on their own. I tell them, “Don’t tell me you don’t have 10 minutes a day to do each drill for just one minute.” I ask them all to spend 10 minutes a day on ball control, whether it’s one minute each at the beginning of practice or before school so you don’t forget. If you really feel like you actually don’t have time, then do each drill for 30 seconds. And you can’t tell me you didn’t have five minutes.
It’s getting into the habit of doing something every day that’s going to make it easier. It’s a lot better to practice something for 10 minutes a day for seven days than one hour straight and then not touch it for a whole week.
What are some important drills?
DW: Depending on the skill level, I always incorporate two-ball dribbling. If it’s a beginner, I do the basic two-ball dribbling, same time, alternating, and perhaps changing the rhythm up a little bit.
If that’s all they can do with two balls then we’ll do drills with one ball and work on footwork, do between-the-legs and just keep repeating the movement over and over again. Stepping back, bringing the ball between the legs, taking a dribble forward with the same leg, then switching legs and then doing it with the other hand. Doing that as fast as you can as many times as you can with the step back and the first step forward to build good habits.
If they can do it with two basketballs, we’ll do it with two. You have the figure eight and the spider drill. Sometimes I will combine them. Go around one leg to begin the figure eight and then once the ball is in the middle, I switch hands and start doing the spider drill before doing the rest of the figure eight with the other hand. As soon as you’re about to switch hands, you do the spider.
There are times I use ball control for hand speed and you might have to look down to see the ball. Eventually once they get comfortable, the next step is keeping their head up. Sometimes we’ll do drills for feel and trying to keep your hand on the ball for as long as possible, sort of like practicing to play against Allen Iverson where he would slowly rock one defender to sleep and then explode. We’ll do drills like that to practice keeping your hands on the ball. Hand placement to bring the ball forwards and backwards or side to side.
I do a lot of drills on my Instagram page. Each week I do at least one ball-control drill. For instance, one is where you are dribbling a basketball and a partner throws another ball at you and you have to do different moves and freestyle combos and then catch the pass. Throw the ball, in-n-out, crossover, behind-the-back, and then catch the ball. That way you’re not thinking about the dribble. Your eyes are up. Your head is up. You are reacting to the ball and help you break down the defender. It will also help with overall handles and alertness. That’s a great drill because it’s not planned. It’s freestyled. It’s not planned. It’s catching a pass and doing combos. There is no right or wrong. You just don’t want to repeat the same thing over and over again.
What’s something a player can do to improve their handle that most people wouldn’t expect?
DW: Anything you’re doing with a ball that involves dribbling is going to improve your handle. It will. As long as the ball is in your hands, even if you’re not dribbling it…you could be passing it in circles around your head, around your waist, around your ankles, that’s going to improve your overall feel and handle. The more time you spend with the ball in your hand is going to improve your handle. There are so many different drills.
One drill that people may not have tried is dribbling one basketball on the wall with their fingertips, and another basketball on the ground up high, up to their ribs. The ball is over the head, dribbling against the wall on the tip of your fingers as fast as you can, and the other is long and hard and pounding it into the ground. Once it becomes comfortable, you start running like that along the wall and run laps around the gym like that. Eventually, I have players do it for one minute on each side, switching hands, and incorporating that into their homework.
I have hundreds and hundreds of ball-control drills. I never run out. If you give someone 10 drills to focus on at a time and tell them to do each one for one minute a day, if they’re practicing every day they’re going to get better. As long as you improve a little bit each day, you’ll get to where you want to be.
Another drill they can use is dribbling on the ground with their legs open and flat, and bouncing the ball with their left hand over their left thigh, back and forth, back and forth, from the side to the middle, forming a lower case “m” back and forth. That’s going to simulate a spin move or an in-n-out crossover, bringing your hand over the ball. To do that, you’re going to have to dribble hard. You have to have your hand placed on the right side of the ball, inside or outside and you have to keep your hand longer on the ball than it is off it. That’s a great, great drill, and when they do it with two balls, their arms look like windshield wipers as they dribble to the middle and sides. I call that the “Pitchfork” or “Windshield Wiper” drill when they’re doing it with two balls.
Who is the best ballhandler you’ve ever seen?
DW: Ray Taylor. The people who were guarding him, they were scared. People were afraid to guard him because they didn’t want to get embarrassed. He was so crafty and had great court vision. He’d do a lot of magical things out on the court. I never trained him but I’ve been watching him play since sixth grade. I saw him at an All-Star Game as a sixth grader and Ray just stole the show. He threw a full-court, no-look, overhead bounce pass between three people to somebody, and split everybody on the court. It landed perfectly on the guy’s hand. He’d just make you say “What just happened?”
There was also Austin Rivers, someone I’ve seen many times in high school and AAU ball, and he was just very slippery getting through people.
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